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MAP test goes electronic- hands- Lydia and JaNyah

Fifth grader JaNyah Wilson (right), 10, concentrates as she works on a test preparation lesson for the MAP test on her Chromebook on Thursday, March 26, 2015, at Hancock Place Elementary School. To the left is classmate Lydia LaVine, 10. This is the first year Missouri will transition to what are called 'computer adaptive assessments,' which replace pencil-and-paper tests. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

The first look at statewide test results based on the controversial Common Core learning standards show a majority of Missouri public school students are proficient in English, but less than half meet the threshold in math.

About 59.7 percent of Missouri students tested last spring passed the English Language Arts test, and a little more than 45 percent met the threshold in math, according to results released Tuesday to the Missouri Board of Education.

Results show the performance gap persists among races and income levels, with about 13 percentage points between those considered to be minorities or low-income, and the rest of the student population.

But because this was the first time students took grade-level Missouri Assessment Program and end-of-course tests based on the Common Core standards in those subjects, state education officials say they should not be compared with last year’s scores, which had passing rates of 53.2 percent in math and 53.5 percent in reading and writing.

“It is a year of transition,” said Margie Vandeven, state commissioner of education. “These new standards raised the expectations for learning in Missouri.”

Later this fall, the state will learn how Missouri students compare with peers in other states based on the same test. Common Core, a controversial and more rigorous set of learning standards, was developed by a consortium of states so such comparisons could be possible, and to better prepare students for the 21st century.

Missouri is the first to release its results. Based on preliminary scores from several other states, “we appear to be a little bit ahead of some of the states,” said Michael Muenks, coordinator of curriculum and assessment for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

But Missouri will lose that ability to compare itself after this year. Last spring, the Missouri Legislature passed an anti-Common Core measure that requires the department to sever its ties with the Smarter Balanced Consortium, which developed the test that students in Missouri and many other states took.

Charlie Shields, president of the state Board of Education, questioned how the education department would know if its schools were competitive nationally after this year.

Lawmakers may not have been clear about what was at stake when they voted on the changes, Vandeven said.

Without that ability, Missouri will be able only to compare its performance from one year to the next. Even that can happen only when there’s consistency in testing. The law the Legislature passed will result in four different tests by 2017, making even year-to-year comparisons impossible.

As a result, no district will be at risk of a downgrade in accreditation status for at least two more years.

This year, officials are comparing 2015 statewide results with field tests administered in spring 2014 to a sample of students. The 2015 results are higher in all but one category, the eighth-grade math test. Just over 28 percent passed that exam, compared with 32 percent in the field test. However, Vandeven cautioned that those results did not include eighth-graders enrolled in Algebra I. When they were included, more than 40 percent passed.

Other comparisons offered by the state included: 57.2 percent of third-graders passing English tests compared with 38 percent who took the field test; and in the same grade, 52 percent passed math compared with 39 percent in the field test. About 57.6 percent of eighth-graders passed English compared with 41 percent in the field test.

Not only were the tests based on new content in English and math this year, but students also took them online, rather than taking the traditional pencil-and-paper test.

Muenks said that in a few years, statewide scores in elementary school will show less improvement and middle-school scores will show more as students more accustomed to the Common Core make their way through public schools.

Science standards did not change. Students in fifth and eighth grades took the exams, with the percentage passing dropping slighting in both. About 48.9 percent of eighth-graders passed, a drop from 52.5 percent in 2014. About 47 percent of fifth-graders scored proficient or advanced this year, down from 48 percent last year.

The passing rate for social studies statewide was 63.4 percent.

Among minority students and those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a marker of poverty, 46.4 percent passed English Language Arts and 32.3 percent passed math, according to data presented to the state board.

After the meeting, Vandeven said the achievement gap was something the state needed to address.

“If ‘all children’ means ‘all children,’ we’re going to have to figure out how to do some things a little differently,” she said. “The ability to close the gap is there. If the state comes together, we can solve this and make it happen.”

The education department plans to release school district-level results next Monday.

The release of scores has been delayed for weeks. Officials said they needed more time to analyze the results because the standards were new this year.

Jessica Bock is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Elisa Crouch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.